Mexico: Violent place or vat of honey?

Almost every day, I read or hear about a shootout, a revenge killing or some other murderous undertaking that involves either the drug cartels, the Mexican police, the military,  innocent family members or bystanders … or (most likely) a combination thereof.

A few days ago, for example, I read about how eight bodies (some dismembered) were found in the tourist mecca of Cancun — some near the hotel zone. I know that the U.S. State Department recently issued updated, “do-not-travel-to” advisories for five states among the 31 in Mexico, including Guerrero (where our part-time home of Zihuatanejo is) and Michoacán (the capital city of Morelia that will be our home until Dec. 1).

Surely this isn’t the Mexico I know and love.

Let’s recap:

Number of dismembered bodies I’ve seen since we shifted our lives to Mexico in May 2016: 0

Number of times I’ve felt physically threatened in Mexico: 0

Number of times I’ve witnessed a kidnapping: 0

Number of times I’ve witnessed a shootout between police and cartel members: 0

Even with these stellar stats,  I’m not naive. I know Mexico can be a dangerous place. We see the covers of Mexican newspapers and online articles that don’t hold back in showing graphic images of the dead bodies. And those State Department travel advisories must have some basis in reality (right?) even though I shake my head when I see how they ignorantly blanket entire states.

I’m not going to use this blog post to say, “But the U.S. is unsafe, too. Look at what’s happening in shopping malls or in schools, or anywhere, or in places like Oakland or Chicago. (Should a foreign state department issue a “do-not-travel-to” advisory for Illinois?)” Nor am I going to use this blog to tell people that Mexico is a safe place. If you want to know what Mexico is like, come visit. I’d be happy to show you around.

I want to use this blog to talk about how disconnected I feel when I read news about murders, gang activity and corruption … because this is not my Mexico! None of that is part of my experience in this wonderful country.

All the horrible news about Mexico leaves me permanently perplexed. It leaves me feeling like I can’t get a handle on a peoplehood or a nation. Mostly it leaves me feeling stymied, like I don’t have the intellectual foundation or enough years “in country” to grasp a very large, tangled and confusing socioeconomic problem.

Here’s what I do understand:

  • We don’t live near border towns, where much of the cartel activity is.
  • Because we aren’t involved in obtaining drugs, or distributing them or exporting them, or vying for control over a city or a region that a cartel wants to have for its own, we are extremely unlikely to encounter cartel activity.
  • Cartels generally have zero interest in tourists, or even 99 percent of rank-and-file Mexicans.

Generally and repeatedly, we come into contact with only lovely people who always say “Buen dia” or “Welcome to my country.” Almost everyone we meet is genuinely curious about why we’ve come to Mexico for more than just a short stay.

Interacting with average Mexicans is like being dipped in a huge vat of honey.  When someone gets on the city bus and says “Buenas tardes” with a smile, and all six or eight people aboard (hey, these are small buses!) reply with “Buenas tardes” and smiles of their own, it’s like a sugar buzz. When we’re walking on the sidewalk of a narrow street and peer into an 18th-century entrance-way, giving us, if we’re lucky, a glimpse of a fabulous interior courtyard, and the owner invites us in and gives us a tour of the entire home, it’s a wonderful, happiness-inducing feeling. It’s a warmth that you rarely get to experience in the United States.

And it’s very far removed from images of dead bodies, machine guns and executions.

It’s going to take me a long time to understand the other side of Mexico.

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Suck Another Way!

Dear readers of BelieveitOhrNot,

I’m determined to teach people to suck another way. More about this very strong desire later in this blog post.

Yes, I’m back!  It’s been a while and for this  I am very sorry.  This week we were invited to lunch at a new friends’ home, and right when I met her, she mentioned she read my blog and missed me posting. So, thank you Kim for providing me with a strong impetus to post again.  I’ve been way busier than usual for a very exciting reason which I will soon share. But before I talk about what’s been keeping me so busy, here is a re-cap of what’s been happening.

  • Two days before we were supposed to return to Mexico, Andy got diagnosed with colon cancer.  We had to postpone our return to Mexico so he could get treatment.  Maker:S,Date:2017-8-28,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y
  •  After a two-day hospital stay,  Andy began his recovery in San Francisco, while we waited to see if he would need chemo. If chemo was going to be needed, we would have been in the Bay Area for at least six months.
  • Thankfully, no chemo was needed!  The surgery removed all the cancer. We spent a month in the Bay Area so Andy could regain his strength and then we embarked on a five-week driving trip to Utah and Colorado where we visited several national parks, including Bryce, Zion and Arches and spent 10 days in Denver. It was a ton of fun!

We then flew to Morelia, Mexico (where we are now) and spent a week in a lovely bed and breakfast while we house hunted for a four-month rental.

Right now I’m writing to you from our amazing two-bedroom house located three blocks from the main cathedral in the old historic section of the city.  We love, love, love Morelia (as I have told you over and over) and we are thrilled to be back. For the next 10 weeks, we’re staying in a really beautiful colonial house that has a great rooftop and a kick-ass courtyard with a beautiful water fountain.  Unfortunately, we can’t stay here until December 1 as we had planned, because the owner is coming back. So we’re going to have to be a bit flexible in our Morelia plans. But for now, we’re enjoying this lovely colonial city, the weather and the friends we’ve made here. It feels wonderful to finally be off the road!  As much as we both love traveling,  it’s very, very hard living out of a suitcase for months on end and not having access to a kitchen. We’re happy to be sitting still for a while.

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We are only a five minute walk from the main cathedral.

So now I’m ready for a BIG reveal.  I co-founded a new business! The business is called BAM. It’s a Mexican bamboo company that provides high-quality Mexican bamboo products to individuals, and to restaurants and cafes. The first product will be reusable bamboo drinking straws, but eventually we will branch out to other products such as water bottles and bamboo silverware you can travel with.

I’m starting the business with a friend. A friend who lives in Morelia. Her name is Lisa Cortes and I met her through this blog!  We’ve been having so much fun working together. She’s a entrepreneur and has vast business experience.  Me, not so much!  But I hate, hate, hate plastic straws! That’s what fueled me to envision BAM.  Even before the no straw movement gathered steam in the U.S,  I was anti-straw.  I actually purchased a bamboo straw in Zihuatanejo last year, and it made me very happy to use it. One day I  showed it to Lisa and BAM was born.  I’m doing the marketing and writing and eventually we’ll produce an educational curriculum for kids.   Lisa is doing a lot of the graphic design (she’s an amazing designer) and handling a lot of the day-to-day business activities since she has more experience and she’s fluent in Spanish, having been raised in Morelia until age 12.  She’s also able to work in Mexico (but BAM is U.S based) and I can’t legally work here. This is a great partnership for this reason and for so many more! We have a ton in common and make a terrific team!

And get this… on Monday, Andy and I and Lisa and her husband, Robert, are all traveling to the World Bamboo Congress conference, held once every three years, this time in Mexico.  It’s a crash course in bamboo 101!  The meeting is in the state of Veracruz, but in the past its been held in India, Japan and China. The four of us will bus to Guadalajara and then fly to Veracruz and then take a bus to the conference site in Xalapa. At the conference we’ll meet people from all over the world who manufacture bamboo and  farm it. There’s even an expo of bamboo!  I’m super excited for us to introduce you to our line of high-quality Mexican bamboo products!

Will you join me and become an environmental warrior?   Maybe you want to suck a different way too?

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Lisa and I want everyone to suck a different way!

In the next week or two our website will launch.  You can check it out soon at letsbam.com.

In the meantime, please like us on Facebook and be prepared to suck another way!  I’m going to post photos and updates from the conference on Facebook.

Another blog post is coming soon with more details about life in Mexico.

Stacey