A Good Place to Start

Last week I wrote a blog post about supporting our neighbours and the local government. It got a lot of response from international residents, not just in Merida but also from those who live in different parts of the country: The majority said they would like to be more involved with their neighbours and the Mexican community in general, but they don’t know any specific ways to do so. One person wrote:

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t know the Mexicans who live next door to me and I’m sure they have no interest in being friends. So just what am I supposed to do?

I wondered how to answer that, and later in the day, I got an idea from another reader:

Two weeks ago, I was thinking, I am locked up in my house and so are my friends. I know everyone is having a really hard time, and I have no idea what to do. But I will go crazy soon if I don’t find something to keep myself busy. On Pinterest, I saw some very cute face masks and I made a couple, just for something to do. I had no one to give them to, so I just sat them on the ledge outside my window. Soon enough someone picked them up. Now, I make a few every day, and it feels good to know I am helping, even if I don’t know “who”.

When we live in the same place for a long time, we accrue random knowledge… We can tell by the wind when the seasons will be changing, and the look of the sky tells us when it will probably rain or snow or be a good day for a hike. Most of us know how to choose local fruit that’s ripe, and we know how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, without Mr. Google’s help. “Back home”, we instinctively know how to interact with others.

Truly, in times like these, it is not easy to live in a place where we have no history. Even ordinary outings are peppered with pot holes. For example, at a local market… how did you feel the first time you saw a giant papaya? Did you have any idea which one would be a good choice? Have you noticed how Yucatecans greet (and often kiss) everyone in sight when they arrive at someone’s house or even a meeting? Many newcomers have language issues and experience a multitude of thorny cultural clashes… your neighbour’s dogs bark day and night, and he expects you to be OK with that? Ditto party noise. What do you do?

The local people often have cast-in-stone ideas about what constitutes a good neighbour. If you have missed out on these “mystifying interchanges”, you have probably not been getting out in the community.

During the COVID 19 pandemic, a lot of foreign residents wish they had made more of an effort to get to know their neighbours. In this never-before-experienced situation, it is comforting to know there are people living right next door who could help you if necessary. And truthfully, I doubt this “voluntary isolation” will end soon.

The good news is that it is NOT too late to become more active in your local community. Learning Spanish may not come easily, but you would be well-advised to have a minimum vocabulary. You could use this time of “voluntary isolation” to get started (or pick it up again) There are lots of online options, and really it is not a difficult language (like Dutch or Mandarin Chinese)

It came as a surprise to most, when people over 60 were no longer allowed to shop at Costco, Walmart or other large supermarkets. On a regular basis, you might be wise to start buying some items in the local smaller stores and markets because if you have a relationship with the local shopkeeper or vendor, they will make sure you don’t run out of essentials.

Try to keep busy. Like the lady I mentioned earlier, you could make some face masks; if you don’t have a sewing machine or fabric, tear up a piece of clothing you no longer use and cut the masks from that. Here’s a good website for mask making: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8OyV15ua24 If you don’t have a sewing machine, no problem, you can hand sew them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZN4qWMKfbSo If you don’t sew at all, here you are: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mgp7DSGN33k

Another good icebreaker with your neighbours or other social contacts is to offer cookies. When I first moved to Merida, I met so many people because I offered them cookies. They liked everything I baked, even plain old sugar cookies. You might set out little bags of cookies with the masks.

Offer a (disposable) glass of cold water to anyone who comes by, like the trash collectors, the mail man, the gas delivery guy, etc.

To show support, you could make a sign to hang in your window. I made one that declared my support for health workers.

You could make one that simply says,


And of course, hopefully, we can all donate money or goods to organizations who are helping the many, many, many people in need. Two excellent organizations are:
Yucatan Giving Outreach – YGO : https://ygo.mx/
International Women’s Club – IWC: https://iwcmerida.com/

Right now the government says they hope we will begin to see normalcy returning by June 1st. But as I’ve said,  I think our “voluntary isolation” will last a lot longer. The numbers of new cases are climbing… On April 22nd, Mexico passed the 10,000 point, and by yesterday there were 13,842 confirmed cases. Interaction with “strangers” may make you feel a little weird. Maybe you never intended to be “part of the crowd”.

But these are extraordinary times. For our own self-preservation, we have to keep busy and we have to keep safe… contributing even in small ways, is a good place to start.

This is not cool at all…

Disclaimer: I have been prodded into writing this opinion piece by people blabbing away on the forums. Many who post on First MERIDA AMIGOS ask reasonable questions or write supportive opinion but there are some who should not be so …

I am Canadian and am often teased by Americans because my countrymen and women are accustomed to prefacing our statements with: “I’m sorry, but …” or “I don’t mean to offend, but…” or “it isn’t my business, but…” And actually, in the USA, there are similar expressions, such as “Bless her heart, but …” or “God love her, but…”
However, to my dismay, in recent years, many Canadians and Americans have replaced the “polite disclaimers” with crude acronyms, such as “WTF…” or “BFD…” or “FFS…” And this is the first point I will make in this post. This dumbing-down of language is personally offensive to me. I don’t think it is necessary to use abbreviations of F-word expressions to describe every collective or compound noun, every subject, object or article… I believe there are equally “colourful” and “forceful” adjectives and adverbs that will adequately express any possible emotion or opinion. So what, some may ask. That’s how I feel, is my answer. And when such three-letter expletives are used to describe a serious situation, I get even more incensed. Any person of substance will say: Serious times and opinion require serious language – or more plainly stated – You should THINK before you spout off in public.

Well, I have thought a lot about what I need to write in this post; and I cannot hold back any longer. I’m tired of hearing and reading so much drivel. Usually “Pollyanna Joanna” keeps quiet or waters down her opinion with platitudes, but sorry, I am NOT into political correctness today.

I am furious with some of the comments I am reading on facebook groups. I don’t care if these people are “just venting” they are insensitive, and behaving in bad taste and are acting against our Yucatecan society’s best interests.

To such individuals, I ask: Did you read the post I wrote yesterday? Do those numbers mean nothing to you? Is it right that you enjoy the beach, restaurants, inexpensive liquor and absence of snow… without feeling any responsibility? And from time to time I have heard some whine that Yucatecans (or Mexicans in general) are not “friendly”. Can you blame them?

Life in Mexico is not easy; you need to have a high income in pesos to live like many “expats” live on a middle class dollar income. About 80% of Mexico’s population does not have disposable income; on their birthdays. they can’t afford to eat in the restaurants where many foreigners casually go for lunch. They get dressed up to attend functions where some foreign residents show up in tank tops and shorts. They politely refrain from saying what they really feel about racist US policy.

And so how do you think they would feel if they realised what you write about them and their governor’s position with regards to the COVID 19 pandemic? Many (not all) of you are guests in Mexico, many (not all) of you have not even bothered to learn more than a few words in Spanish. Many don’t have many (if any) Mexican friends… so why do you think you have the right to spout off?

I think the true purpose of forums is to ask questions and learn from others… the lady who uses an electric scooter is worried how she will get around without someone to lift it in and out of the car. That is a valid question. But those who say they are bored and want the beer sales to come back… I have to hope you are writing to get a rise out of people… and are not truly serious. I also like alcohol, but anyone who puts it before the citizens’ safety has a problem they should look after.

If you do not understand why citizens’ safety is directly related to the availability of alcohol you have probably never driven through an economically challenged area at night. The misery caused by alcohol abuse is enough to make some people quit drinking altogether. Children go without food, wives are beaten, young women and boys are raped by drunks who would not commit such terrible acts if they were sober. And sadly, this behaviour is not exclusive to poor areas. I have met some of the saddest women in Merida in the restroom of the Club Campestre – but that is another story.

I could go on and on; I certainly have lots more I could write with respect to what I consider oafish behaviour. But the crux of this matter is:

You are here. Strict measures are being taken to fight the COVID 19 pandemic, and “my dears” if you don’t want to follow these edicts, go live elsewhere. If your opinion does not support the greater good… keep it to yourself. Don’t have a temper tantrum on public forums. And why do I care?

I care because if Mexicans read such opinion, they will look at me and think I maybe share such sentiments. I have spent most of my life trying to be as respectful as possible to this culture. And I resent being tarred with a negative brush.

This is not cool at all.

How we are handling COVID 19 (today anyways…)


Jorge and I got dressed-up for Easter

Wednesday March 11th, the COVID 19 pandemic was officially announced by the World Health Organization, and we sent our housekeeper, Rosana back to her village with 2 week’s wages, and said we’d be in touch after the end of the month. As the government suggested, Jorge and I began our “voluntary isolation”. Good thing we started early because we had no idea of what “voluntary isolation” actually entails. On March 11th, there were 12 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Mexico.

Between the 11th and the 16th of March, I went shopping in a big enclosed space, AKA the supermarket where I always shop. I was part of the “mask-less and glove-less horde” meandering around, touching items and putting them back in the pile. I saw lots of people greeting each other and laughing as they said, “Remember, no kissing… ha, ha, ha, ha! ” When I got home, I did wash the produce, but I’ve always done that. I did not wipe down any of the packages with alcohol, nor did I shower right away. I did leave my shoes on the porch, but I did not spray them with sanitizer – and horror of horrors – I traipsed all over the interior of our house in the same clothes I’d worn to the supermarket.

Monday March 16th, I realised the error of my ways – the gravity of the situation was sinking in – and I started getting scared. On March 16th, there were 61 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Mexico; 49 new cases in 5 days. The next day, classes were suspended country-wide.

That weekend, Jorge and his brother had a “porch visit”. I set out their chairs, 6 feet apart and I left them so that they could have some “guy time”. When I returned an hour and a half later, there they were – sitting on the same bench, slapping each other on the back and laughing – I went ballistic! Raul retreated and I asked Jorge to shower immediately. I was acting like a crazy person! But he “humoured me”, and I “convinced him” of the importance of all these “exaggerated safety measures”. By March 24th, we had 405 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Mexico; 344 new cases in just 8 days.

Jorge and I moseyed along; the housework was a drag and yet it isn’t all bad news. We found we enjoyed spending all this time together. We were cooking up a storm and by March 26th, I had to accept that the additional kilos showing up on the scale’s readout were NOT just “water retention” – I decided to go on the low carb plan. That lasted a week; I could not stand the reduction of food and alcohol even one more day. When Jorge caught me stuffing a fistful of chips into my mouth, I heard him mutter, “Oh-oh.” I would have to try the “within reason” approach to food.

This would not be easy because the police were sending home anyone they caught walking for exercise. And without burning calories, it is all the harder to keep weight down. But the police’s “exaggerated safety measures” were perfectly justified. On March 26th, there were 848 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Mexico. More than double the previous number of just 2 days ago.

On the last day of March, there were 1,215 confirmed cases of COVID 19. 367 new cases in 5 days, a bit of a decrease in the acceleration rate. My new “workout” now involved more intense house cleaning.

Monday April 7th marked our 1 month “anniversary” of voluntary isolation. By this point we had a better idea of what was OK and what NOT. Our shopping had narrowed down to 4 places: “El Huayito”, a small outdoor market. “Farmacia Camara”, a locally owned drugstore, “Donasusa”, a regional chain of small supermarkets – and yes – “La Perlita”, a neighbourhood bakery. All these establishments are located within 6 blocks of our house. I bless them all for staying open.  By April 7th, there were 2,785 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Mexico. An increase of 1,570 in just a week.

By Monday April 20th, 8,772 cases of COVID 19 had been confirmed. AND of those, there have been 712 fatalities.

Yesterday, Mexico entered Phase 3 of the pandemic. The Siglo XXI Convention Center has been habilitated as a hospital. The police continue trolling for random walkers, and I have come to a compromise with that – I get up at 5 am to walk 2 blocks back and forth along my street – then I do some Yoga stretches and swim 20 laps (not much because our pool is only 8 m. long) I am trying to stay away from starch and sugar and the wine supply is diminishing so I am rationing that.

Right now, the authorities say we will be back to class on June 1st; we’ll see if that actually happens. For the foreseeable future, Jorge and I will continue to have good days when we are organised and optimistic; and I know we’ll also have bad ones when we lay around and feed our fear . We have to accept this; everyone does.

I don’t know if the world will get a grip on this pandemic until we have a vaccine, so Jorge and I will keep on doing just what we’re doing now. So far we have been able to cover all our responsibilities – that’s what it’s all about – the governments of the globe can make recommendations, but, it is up to every person on the planet to act rationally and save lives. The economic pressure is tighter every day, so PLEASE help where you can by continuing to donate $$$ to the community organization of your choice.

Waiting for help…

Be well everyone – stay home – and stay safe.