Proof in Homeschooling

Proof in Homeschooling.

We are only two weeks in to our rebellious mexican homeschool adventure. The first day we sat down at the table to work with letters. Anahi took off on her own, writing up a storm. Inti would have rather been doing anything else. There was the dirt pile,  some chickens were roaming outside and there was a toy car under the table. After struggling to get his attention, it sadly dawned on me, that although he had attended  “school” here for six months, not only did he not recognize any of the letters but he didn’t even know how to hold a pencil. I finally persuaded him to try writing the letter “T” and only because “T” is for truck and tractor. He managed to rip a hole in the paper, spill juice on it and write three faintly legible “T”s before running away to play outside. Well ok, he’s three and it’s only the first day…

Feeling discouraged, the next day I went to the papeleria in town for new supplies. I bought paint, glue sticks, tiny scissors, every color of glitter, a big stack of paper and some googly eyes for good measure. I thought to myself “Fuck it. We will just do art. Art is important, right?” The kids were excited to see the pile of stuff and wanted to get started right away. This is the enthusiasm I was hoping for! So along with the crayons and pencils we already had, I left them alone to make anything they wanted. They sat there creating for over an hour.

The next day I decided that we could start making an alphabet book using the new art supplies. So I drew a giant uppercase and lowercase “A” in the center of the page, Anahi colored it in while Inti and I looked through their cousins old school work books and cut out things that started with the letter “A”. Later they glued the cut outs around the letter and embellished with glitter. Every day they each made a page for the book, had a great time and were learning a lot without even realizing it!

A few days later they asked to draw so I gave them each colors and paper and headed out to wash laundry. About thirty minutes later I came back in to check on them. Anahi was happily making her own book full of letters and princesses, and Inti was working away on a page full of rainbow colored “T”s! I couldn’t believe it. This kid wanted nothing to do with it just a few days before and there he was practicing away without even being prompted! This was the first clear sign that what I am doing is already working. They have both started asking me what letters things start with and like pointing out letters they recognize around town. We don’t do school work every day and I never make them if they don’t want to. If I don’t offer it, at some point during each day they will ask for it. They also show more interest in the story books we have.

The second thing that has been happening has to do with the people in town. V was quite sure that homeschooling would be extremely unacceptable here, which was a large part of his initial hesitation (more like rigid determination to stop me). Turns out he was mostly wrong.

I like to do my shopping in the morning before it gets hot. When the shop keepers see my children in town rather than in school, they always ask why they don’t have classes. My response is always the same, that I choose not to send them. At first the people are shocked, but then I explain why I think homeschooling is better and the consensus is always the same. They agree and applaud me for being brave enough to do something different. Many people even tell me about someone else that they know, usually in the states, that choose not to send their children to school either. By the end of the conversation, the people always say “Si! En la casa mejor! Esta bien” or yes, in the home is better, it’s good. There is surprisingly more support for my “crazy decision to pull them out of school” here than I ever would have thought. Thank God, but even if there wasn’t, I would do it anyway! Today they are in the field learning about farming as they help V plow the corn with horses. The best thing for me about homeschooling is that each and every day brings something different. I’m very glad I followed my instincts instead of listening to nay sayers or fearing the unknown.

Broken eggs, rain and waiting

Broken eggs, rain and waiting

I have been totally losing it lately. With an increasing sense of panic and dispair, I was constantly examining every possible escape route instead of enjoying my life. It felt awful and I have been hating Mexico and everything about it.

A few weeks ago one of the kids was collecting the chicken eggs and broke one inside the fridge. I have no idea how this happened, but it managed to get everywhere. I didn’t have time to clean it at the moment so I just left it there. The day passed by and I forgot about the egg until dinner time. I was cooking dinner when V discovered the broken egg. In his usual grumpy tone, he demanded to know why I hadn’t cleaned it. I told him I was busy and if he didn’t like it, he could clean it. So he shut the fridge. The next day was the same, I only remembered the egg when I was busy with something else, and did not clean up the mess. We had another confrontation in the evening and again, nobody cleaned the mess. I realized that this had become more than just a broken egg, it was a messy struggle for power.

Well, I let the egg sit there for most of two weeks, until the whole energy of the fight blew over. Then I went grocery shopping one day and decided to organize the fridge, as by this time it had become quite a disaster. I looked at the egg mess and kicked myself because I knew it would be hard to clean now. However, when I started scraping, it came off effortlessly in one big chunk! It sat there so long that it had completely hardened, making clean up very easy. I thought about the how the power struggle related to the egg. Waiting for some time to pass made both of the sticky situations much easier to deal with.

One day after too many weeks of stifiling hot, extremely dry weather, the air suddenly turned muggy. I could hardly move anymore or breathe. I didn’t think it could get any worse, but it did. Some property in a neighboring town was on fire, adding a polluted quality to the disgusting, dense air. This lasted for days and sent me over the edge. I knew I had to run fast if I was going to survive. Just when I was at my breaking point, the late afternoon sky began to thicken with what looked like rain clouds. The wind smelled like water and I could hear thunder rumbling behind the mountain. I didn’t believe it and sat in the arch watching. The sky slowly darkened and the wind grew cool, I felt myself wake up. Relief was blowing in fast. Eventually the rain began to fall and lightning illuminated the night sky. I went to bed with the windows open, listening to the rain.

I woke up with a surprisingly better outlook and moved through the day with slightly more energy. Late afternoon brought another storm, and again it rained most of the night. This water falling freely washed away most of the turmoil that had been grinding me. It was then that I realized that I NEED water. I need rain, moving water, refreshment, rejuvenation, the radiant life force energy that clean water brings, the trees and plants that live where the water is, I need LUSH. This dusty, hot, never enough water flowing, cracking dehydration was doing me in fast. No wonder I have felt so desperate to get to the beach!  That would be the largest natural body of moving water one could possibly take in.

For now, the rainstorm certainly took the edge off. Because I didn’t follow my panic and bail, I realized that what I was feeling was mostly about water, and that perhaps I just need to wait it out. And definitely find water when I feel that pressurized. This is one of the important lessons that I learned while sitting up all those times. Hold your seat. In other words, sit up and wait. Your feeling will change, your circumstances will change. Don’t sneak out the back door no matter how long Patrick talks… Just hold your seat, in a good way. Mexico is testing all of the things that I learned in those circles…. Clearly I have a lot to learn about patience and permanence.

Sharing is caring, unless it’s not.

Sharing is caring, unless it’s not.

I have been talking a lot of shit lately about the people here, their cultural beliefs and intelligence. I have been feeling completely disenchanted with the reality of rural mexican living and the ways of life here in general. Spending time thinking up numerous ways to flee, to a number of different locations, the overwhelmingly clear and persistent thought has been “not here”.

Given the current wave of criminal activity around the highways leading towards the coast, I ultimately decided that the smarter, safer plan was to head home for a month to visit family and friends. Though this plan is more expensive, I am fairly certain that we wont be pulled out of our car by men wanting to set it on fire to block the roads. Travel to and from the US is reliably cartel-free… the route we choose anyway.

So I went ahead and contacted all the folks we haven’t seen in a year to let them know when we were thinking about coming. All of the people who say that they miss us and would love to see us. After several phone calls, the general impression was that they all live very complex lives and would not have much time to spare for a visit. Not only that, but they all have very full homes and would not have any room for us to stay. This was disappointing to say the least. Unfortunately, the combined expense of round trip airfare, transportation, food and a place to stay (hotel or ??) is just way out of our price range. It appears that a quick trip home is not going to happen.

When we were coming to Mexico, first to visit and then to stay, we were met with a very different version of hospitality. They cleared out a room for us and made it up with sleeping accommodations. Though they didn’t have very much money or food, they always shared what they had with us. They offered us showers and coffee and whatever else we wanted. When we stayed for three months and my kids were destroying everything and causing major ruckus, they shook their heads and made plenty of exasperated comments, but never told us to leave. The few occasions that we spent a couple of days at a relative’s house, who have their own kids and no extra space, they rearranged all the furniture so that my kids and I could have our own room for the time we were there. Now we have been here for a year. Though my mother in law and I despise each other, everytime I show up at her house she offers me food, even when she hardly has any for herself. Even if its just tortillas.

Let me be clear here. I do not like many things about this place or the people in it. I would be quite happy if I never saw some of them again! I often long to go back to the states or anywhere else where I could hold an intelligent conversation. But the one thing that these folks have that my American friends and family don’t have is the ability to freely share whatever they’ve got. This is not always the case. I have seen my share of hoarding here. However, when it comes down to the wire, these people live with a lot less and share a lot more. And though I don’t always want to go, Sunday is always “family day”. They make time for getting together as often as possible. Privacy has never seemed to be the priority.

Where I come from, you have single family American homes and single family American lives… There just isn’t enough time to get together, but why? Most of you are not out doing manual labor, or inefficiently moving through a number of failing systems like here in Mexico. Life is pretty easy and streamlined compared to this chaos! There is more down time, more freedom of choice and the truth is, you fill your lives with what you want. You even tell yourselves that all of your choices are necessary. I did. Everyone has a car and a telephone. Everyone is connected to the internet and nobody can see beyond what is immediately in front of them. At the risk of offending everyone that I love stateside… That is why I left. Your lives are too full and too seperate. It makes me sad and I miss you all. I used to wonder if the space my family occupied in your lives would fill up with so many other things… Well it looks like it has. But I guess that’s life and we keep on living, don’t we?

Viva Mexico!

So what now…

Alternatives. Choice. Expanding consciousness. Energy. Forward motion. Intuition. Freedom. Clarity. These are all unfamiliar words to the people who live here.

It has become very clear that I do not want to leave Mexico. At the same time, I know that I can not stay in this tiny town for the rest of my life, or even the rest of this year. I need to get out of this energy and shake off everything that’s trying to stick to me.

I’ve been soul searching and have come upon several realizations. The first being the energetic shift that happened when I wasn’t paying attention. When I decided that I wanted to move to Mexico with all my kids, I was imagining us living as global citizens. Raising my children internationally was a creative and meaningful way to cultivate education, information, cultural awareness and experience. I felt the limitless potential ahead of us and this is precisely what directed me to follow this seldom chosen path. What has shifted so profoundly during the past year is that the expansive feeling has been replaced by a constricting, stifiling downward motion that eventually led to feeling trapped with zero hope of encountering any of the things I was looking for. As I was busy trying to learn how to get along here, the liberating feeling of following my dream and living internationally was replaced by the invisible hunters snare of actually being a disempowered rural mexican woman. I felt like I had been hooked and was being dragged about by whoever was holding the pole… In this case it was the all encompassing energy of depravity as experienced by the people who live here.

This all bubbled to the surface when I started clearing energy and asserting my freedom of choice. When I began doing the things that felt right for myself and my family, instead of following along with the cultural norms, I was met with everything from resistance to total outrage. I clearly understood that I have zero support or recognition here. I am being hammered by negativity at every turn and am living surrounded by people who are haphazardly manifesting everything that they do not want with absolutely no idea that they can do anything differently. I am constantly fighting against people who are telling me that I’m wrong or that I can’t. I just don’t feel like this is working.

Another important realization that arrived at exactly the right time, is that I am in no way obligated or stuck. I can do whatever I want, even with all these kids. This home that we have been creating here does not necessarily need to be a permanent location that we never leave. It could very well be that I have made an excellent, stable home base. A centrally located jumping off point for the array of incredible beauty one can explore in Mexico and central America. Travel is relatively inexpensive and we are already here… I realize this idea is even more off the beaten path, but it sounds like a very realistic alternative to giving up everything and going back to the states…

Having expressed this idea to V, he was even more discouraging and negative than when I quit tortillas and decided to homeschool. He wants absolutely nothing to do with it and feels like we should just leave. I know I would regret simply throwing in the towel and walking away. However, leaving for a month here and there, but staying within Mexico is not only more financially possible than going back to the states, but I would be able to finally enjoy the beauty all around me that was drawing me here in the first place. When the adventure felt like it was reaching it’s end, we could come back refreshed and recharged, ready to root down again, rest and be here.

It’s disappointing to me that this place has turned out to have so little to offer. And that my community and partner offer so very little in the way of support. There is probably nothing that I can do about that outside of accepting it or moving on. It’s a very good thing that I am intrinsically creative and resourceful or this could be the end of the Mexico chapter. Perhaps a change of scenery and a dose of like mindedness will go a long way in making this small town-small mind mentality bearable for a while before being called to the next exploration destination. And it’s entirely possible that I could find a community of people that I really enjoy and decide to stay… Who knows. What I do know is that I will never be able to settle for a life that I just don’t love. And the only one who can change it, is me. Keeping an open mind is the first step in creating the change you want to see.

The way out…

The title of my blog is The Way. After spending several years preparing for this epic journey, and having lived in Mexico for a little over a year now, it is at this time, with careful consideration of the unanticipated reality compared to the idealistic dream of living in rural central Mexico… That my conclusion is that it may be time to find The Way Out!

The cumulative sum of what I have discovered in this small pocket of the world, leaves much to be desired. As I have noted earlier, it is no longer the “old world” but is also not exactly the “new world” either. Some leftover relics of the old world still exist here, but they are mingling awkwardly with clumsily selected fragments of the new world, and this most unflattering mixture is not serving the community well. We have people who are dressed for a day at the shopping mall, living in the dirt and cooking on the fire like indios. We have easy access to diabetes and Coca-Cola and obesity but no access to health care or education regarding diet and nutrirition. We have the beginnings of a throw away society but with no money and no land fill the people are just making an enormous mess. I can’t take it.

The school has turned out to be the greatest disappointment of many. I can do rural, I can do poor but I can not do half assed. Upon walking into the kindergarten classroom, the first thing I notice is the tiny tables and chairs. Then I see the alphabet hanging on the wall, and notice that many letters are missing. The numbers on the opposite wall tell the same story. It would not be difficult or costly for the teacher to draw the missing letters on a piece of paper and hang them up in the empty spaces. However, there are also no art supplies and no books, so I suppose they have bigger problems to worry about. We bought two uniforms at the beginning of the year because these were required to start school, but halfway through the year the uniforms became optional for some reason and everyone stopped wearing them. There are many days that the teacher shows up late, and many more when she doesn’t show up at all. Parents stand outside the gate for an hour or so waiting before they eventually give up and walk home. In the seven months that my children have attended school, they have learned nothing academically. What they have learned is troubling. All the signs and societal cues, both subtle and not so subtle, point to the alarming reality that education is not valued here. At all. They pass students on to the next grade whether or not they have learned the necessary skills, knowing that that ultimately they will find a shit job with a menial wage and nothing really matters. The only book I have ever seen in people’s homes is the bible and when asked, nobody even reads that because reading is considered a huge waste of time. Not one person who I have met here is a life long learner. The internet, which can be found in one of eight cyber stations in our tiny village, with it’s unlimited access to information is used only for Facebook and YouTube. The desire to seek and learn and create is effectively hammered out of the youth at such an early age, from every possible angle, that by the time they’re an adult they don’t even realize that there are new ideas and information that they could be seeking!!! 

Well I do not accept that reality. Nor do I accept the “reality” that just by virtue of being a woman, that I am damned to a life of cooking and washing and serving. There is much more to life than manual labor and though I enjoy cooking on a fire or making tortillas sometimes, it will never be the end all be all of my daily existence. I am in no way obligated to these tasks and do them purely by choice. That’s a tough pill for folks here to swallow.

Well one day it happened that I decided to exercise my freedom of choice and put a stop to all the things that were causing me to feel unnecessary stress or unhappiness. In the name of self preservation, I declared that I was going to stop making tortillas. I may as well have declared war on this entire culture and way of life! The fact is, I spent most of a year trying to learn how to make these tortillas and they never have turned out exactly right. It’s been a tiring, frustrating endeavor that just no longer felt worth the effort. Tortillas are reasonably priced if we were to buy them in our town, and my mother in law makes five kilos each day wich is more than enough for her family, guests, animals and us. So despite the massive disapproval, my tortilla making days are over.

Now that I have cleared several hours each day, I have time to deal with the school issue. The same day I announced there would be no more tortillas, I also cheerfully announced that there would be no more school. I’m taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, and educating my own children in my home, myself. Back in the states, this is called homeschooling, and it is a viable, acceptable option that is often supported by many communities. Well that is not the case here. Considered another extremely radical move, I am rocking this multicultural boat so hard that I’m beginning to wonder if we might fall out! After arguing my points on education, what it is, what it means, and why it’s so important, I realized why the people unquestionably accept this shotty level of “education” for their children. It’s because they themselves are so uneducated that there is no possible way that they could teach them anything even if they did have time between all the daily chores that are required to survive here. At the risk of sounding incredibly naive, this realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I have always had choices. I have always been well educated and have always had access. Even when money was scarce, I was never mentally tapped out.

On the surface, it would be easy to say that I sound like the typical, arrogant American expatriate. Without looking any deeper, one could assume that my biggest problem here is that I’m missing American comfort and convenience and regretting that I can’t send my kids to a top notch school. It goes far beyond this. The social pressure, cultural obligation and lack of resources have been preventing me from living authentically. Much of the pressure to conform comes from V himself. After living in the US for twelve years, he is trying to find his footing again and wanting to make it good for us here. He does not want to rock the boat, he wants to keep the peace with everyone, no matter how conflicting their views.

The biggest difference between me and most of the local population is not money, it’s not the American logo on my passport, it’s that my mind is free! I want my children’s minds to be free also. Though I have spent the last year attempting to learn the ways of this place, it’s time for me to let that all go. Social graces and cultural expectations will never come before the well being of my children. The comfort of someone elses ego will never trump my own intuition and I will never be able to become what I am not. Whether or not I stay in Mexico… Only time will tell. For now I’m backing off and taking some time to reevaluate. I want to see what life could be like here if I did it my way, instead of compromising so much of what’s important to me. And as luck would have it, the tropical ocean is only four hours away and seems like a great place to clear one’s head. So instead of bailing out on Mexico all together… We’re mpst likely heading to the beach!

Goin Camping…

There is something about my daily life that is unsatisfying to me. Something missing. I often feel like I need a vacation or that I would be happier somewhere else. I feel bogged down by stuff, maintaining stuff, tripping over stuff, washing and putting away more stuff. Even though I feel like this, I also often feel strongly compelled to buy more stuff! It’s insanity. I mean, what is going on???

The best times in my life have been when I was camping. Minimalist freedom. Another time that I have had that similar feeling was during a move to a new house, having only moved in the first, most important items. Gradually as the house fills up with the other posessions, the space feels cluttered and the feeling of spaciousness and freedom fades.

I had the idea that moving to Mexico would feel like camping. That freedom and lightness that comes with being in nature without a ton of stuff. Well that is not the feeling I have. Not at all. I, unfortunately, have realized that I am doing the same thing here as in the US. I am filling up all the available space with stuff. Inside and out. I think “gosh, as soon as we make this retaining wall, life will be good. As soon as we finish the concrete patio, or that fence… As soon as we take away more nature and add more civilization…” When the truth is, I would be quite happier living in a hut made of sticks below an ancient tree! All of the money I am throwing at these improvements is starting to feel counterproductive. As we build more, my longing for wild increases, as my feeling of spaciousness fades. I am feeling disillusioned.

I know that all of these things will make a huge difference during the rainy season. But I also know that the more projects we complete, the more projects pop up that urgently need completing. Its as though with each improvement, the ugliness of the half done chaos becomes even more glaringly obvious. I would have thought that as we checked items off the “to do” list, that the list would get shorter, but infact, it is getting longer! The momentum of progress drives more progress, creating the need for even more progress. Faster and faster, as fast as the money can go!

Now what would happen if it all of a sudden just stopped? What if I reached a level of satisfaction, an okness with things as they are? Is that even possible? Is there an end to all of this making and creating and building… Or is that end only eventually found in death? Is it simply human nature propelling this seemingly endless train of improvements or is it some other deep, unquenchable desire for an unobtainable sense of rightness… I can only speculate. In any case, there appears to be no end in sight. We have indeed accomplished a great deal in this first year, but still have a long way to go. And then again… Maybe we should just go camping.

Scarcity consciousness

Scarcity consciousness

Where I live now there is never enough of anything except work. Not the kind of work that you get paid for, the kind of work you need to do to survive. It’s been this way for so long now, that even when there is enough, the people don’t believe it and talk about it as if it weren’t really true. This scarcity consciousness runs deep.

Imagine you didn’t have access to information. Imagine that everything you know is based on something someone said, who you think you believe, but have no way to research or varify. Your world is based on myth, hearsay and very limited personal experience. You never leave your small town and have no idea what exists beyond these hills. You don’t know how the body works, or about healthcare or nutrition. When something happens and the answers are outside your capacity to understand, you blame witchcraft, the evil eye or God. You never look any further. You never seek ways to better your life. You believe all the advertisements because you really don’t know any better. You can’t read the small print, in fact, you can’t read at all.

Now imagine that you work your fingers to the bone everyday. Your back hurts, your hands are cracking and your feet are black. You carry water, chop wood and walk. You haul giant loads of grass on your back to feed your animals. You breathe black smoke as you do the cooking and burn your fingers as you flip the tortillas. You have many children that need food, clothes and shoes, and these things all cost money. You can swing a machete, clearing the brush below avocado trees in the scorching hot sun, earning $150 pesos from morning to dinner time. That’s enough to buy one pair of shoes, half of a school uniform or one kilo of meat. Many children don’t go to school because they don’t have enough money, and they have earning potential by age eight. I see four year olds selling matches and candy in the city.

So life here is pretty rugged. You buy small quantities of everything and walk to town almost daily for supplies. You end up paying more, but you have no choice. You never have enough money for the big bag. In the US I used to buy in bulk about once a month. I started doing that here as well as soon as I learned the best places to buy. Sugar, oil, rice, beans, toilet paper, animal feed and soap… I can literally save $500-$800 pesos per month simply by buying the costal (big sack). I see people every day buying a handful of chicken food, one roll of toilet paper or three pesos worth of cumin (that’s about a teaspoon). All of this scrimping, making due and bone scraping really wears on a person. The cumulative effect of constantly sacrificing is an unbearable weight that is carried by an entire culture, including their young children.

Well it’s funny how the energy of a place seeps into you over time. Without awareness, I started hearing myself echo this poverty consciousness both in my words and actions. At first I didn’t even realize what was happening, I just felt tired. I could never get on top of the chores and started feeling like a victim. This did not feel good and I had to really think about where this energy was coming from and how to shift. Then I realized that this is how most people feel here. On the surface it looks like laziness, but it’s really more like a kind of depression. No wonder people don’t fix fences or pick up garbage. There is always too much to do and not enough money to do it with… So fuck it. Yeah. I could see their point. Except that this mentality has not taken hold of my mind enough to make me immovable. I still have creative problem solving skills and the ability to find information, making alternative solutions viable. I know that all of these things that need doing don’t necessarily need money, they need forward thinking and follow through.

When you lack resources and the mind becomes trapped, you get scarcity consciousness. The only way out is education and information. Not enough food? Plant a garden! Not enough money? Spend what you do have wisely- processed foods, pampers and baby formula are all costly and unnecessary. Drink natural water, it’s free! Examine your local resources; lemons, avocados, chiles, corn, peaches, chickens and sheep to name a few… All food sources and guaranteed money makers. The potential to live well is certainly here. Most people already own land. The growing season is lengthy. Renewable resources abound.

So why are so many families struggling? And what can we do to shift this? The energy is so stuck and folks so deeply believe in the struggle, that their only solution is to leave. Go to the USA where the money is. Nobody learns anything, nothing changes and when inevitable deportation becomes a reality and the free money stops flowing, no one is any better off then they were before.

I honestly don’t have any answers. As the eclectic foreigner, I am not widely listened to in these parts. You know what I am doing though? Planting my garden and giving away my organic produce. Making natural body care products and giving those away too. Drinking water, breastfeeding openly and using cloth diapers. Sewing, building and seeking information. Though I don’t communicate well in the native language, my actions speak louder than words. I see how poeple watch me. Young mothers talk about my cloth diapers. Women ask me about the herb tea I’m drinking and marvel on the nesting boxes I made for our chickens. Sometimes I think I am making some small difference… At least I hope I am, and that all this hard work will someday reap real benefits. Not only for my own family, for everyone.